Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Samson: A Savior Will Rise" by Shawn Hoffman

This book is highly gripping, and the best and worst part of it is that it is based on real-life events.  Samson is a family man with a beautiful wife and children.  Problem is he's Jewish, the Third Reich is in power, and it's the onset of World War II.  Living in a ghetto, Samson and his family are deported to a concentration camp.  This is after Samson--a boxing champion--assaults Nazi guards who are beating up a young Jewish boy.  This one decision to intervene in someone's life will eventually cost Samson everything.  Once in the camp, Hoffman goes into detail following each member of Samson's family as they are tortured.  Mengele is a crazed Nazi scientist--if you could even call him that--that is enraged at Samson's sheer defiance and bravado.  When Samson is called to box for Nazi entertainment, he talks smack and challenges the notion that Jews are inferior.  If he is so inferior, Samson argues, why is he always winning boxing matches?  Eventually, Mengele rips Samson's family apart in an effort just to cause Samson emotional pain.  Based on thorough research, Hoffman describes some of the brutality inflicted on Samson's family.  The sad part is that these acts were committed on many Jews in the Holocaust.  An interesting side character is Kolbe, a Polish Catholic monk.  He is in the concentration camp because he hid Jews.  Kolbe often speaks of God and faith while Samson either listens intently or openly questions Kolbe.  This book will really get readers thinking.  It's easy to have faith in God when things are going well.  But for victims of the Holocaust, we see in this book how it is not so easy to tell them, "just have faith."  This book has a happy ending and a sad one all at once.  Starved, ill-rested, beaten to the point of death, and hanging on by stitches and scabs, Samson is both a victor and a loser.  Free and living in South America with illegal papers, Mengele is both a victor and a loser.  But all of that depends on what your definition of winning is.  I highly recommend this book as an eye-opener to all.  I just don't recommend that you read it right before going to bed--it will haunt you.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Perfectly Matched" by Maggie Brendan

Sadly, this book let me down on many occasions.  Let me back up a bit.  The story revolves around Anna who is mail-order-bride.  She gets married to Edward based on a few written correspondences in response to a mail-order-bride ad.  When they are married and the book begins, Edward gives her a list of chores to do.  Anna is discouraged, and things get more complicated between the couple when Anna wants to take pets into her home to care for them but Edward does not want pets to disturb his orderly life.  As the book progresses, it gets pretty hot and heavy.  Throughout the story, while Edward is a bit OCD, he is portrayed as handsome and romantic.  Additionally, throughout the book, Anna gets Edward to bend his will to hers through sexual manipulation.  This books gives very bad messages to women.  Firstly, it give the message that a marriage can turn out perfectly with someone you've just met and don't really know all that well.  Secondly, it gives the message that women can get whatever they want by seducing men.  As if that wasn't enough, this book was just plain uncomfortable.  It wasn't as subtle as other romance novels I read.  It felt like a dirty novel written for men.  Disgusting.    

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Return to Me" by Lynn Austin

This book was a superb read that was immensely well-written.  Starting off with a scene where the Babylonian king consults Daniel, the story hits the ground running.  After the reader understands that the Babylonian empire is about to crumble, the story quickly transitions into the Persians taking over.  Readers follow Babylonian exiles Iddo, Zechariah, Dinah, Yael, Yeshua, and others--some characters biblical and some fictitious.  When King Cyrus declares that the Jews can return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple, there is indecisiveness.  Some Jews stay and some Jews leave.  Zechariah leaves his father behind as he follows his grandfather Iddo to the forsaken Promised Land.  There is drama between Iddo and his wife as she does not want to leave Babylon.  Yael is a prime character as she is a young girl that is friend to the young Zechariah.  I should point out that Zechariah and his family age throughout the book--readers see Zechariah go from a young boy to a full grown man.  Anyway, Yael is ensconced in sorcery and eventually begins to mingle with the Samaritans neighboring Jerusalem who are incredibly hostile to the Jews.  Yael is an insider of sorts because the Samaritans honor her for her abilities as a "seer" who can tell the future "by the stars."  Tension grows as religious Zechariah--training to be a priest--falls in love with Yael, a sorcerer condemned by the Torah.  I liked how Austin wrote about pagan ways but kept it relatable.  In the 21st century, not many readers can relate to the thought of multiple gods, but people can certainly relate to the danger and temptation of psychics and astrology that is still popular today even in America.  I won't give the entire book away, but the suspense will keep you turning the pages as you wonder what Zechariah will do--what he will compromise and what he will not when it comes to his faith.  You also will wonder what will happen to Iddo and Dinah's marriage.  Many important faith questions come up as dialog goes back and forth between characters who support and oppose the work of the Jews.  On a side note, readers will understand much better exactly who the Samaritans are that are mentioned in the Bible as this historical book gives a good backdrop to the history of the Samaritans and the Jews.  Also woven into this story are Zechariah's dreams written in the Bible.  What I loved is how Austin wrote the book to relate some of Zechariah's dreams to troubles going on in his life.  Now, when it comes to dreams and prophecy, it's hard to know what is really meant.  However, the American public sometimes goes overboard trying to over-spiritualize everything while ignoring context.  This book puts context to a lot of what is written in the Bible while adding some literary freedom, of course.  While characters like Ezra and Nehemiah aren't mentioned in this book, it packs a lot of time and history into its pages.  I can not recommend this book enough.  There is drama, romance, action, redemption, spirituality, and so much more.         

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"First Date" by Melody Carlson

This short book really surprised me.  I thought it'd be superficial and a quick boring read designed for teeny-boppers.  I was wrong.  As the pages kept turning, I found myself engrossed in the story.  The plot was detailed while not being too complex; I could put the book down for a couple days and come back without missing a beat.  I also liked how this book was culturally relevant and current.  References to iPads and Facebook were made, and you could not really tell that this book was not written by a teen.  It's not an easy task for a middle aged writer to write a teen story that seems real.  Anyway, Carlson accomplished that.  I also like how this book is not graphic but does not shy away from serious topics.  The issues of date rape, chastity, peer pressure, and more are addressed.  There is real life drama as we learn about the characters' families--from divorce to racism to death.  I also liked how when discussing makeovers, Carlson weaves into the story how everyone has a different type of beauty.  For instance, one character wants to look like another girl with long hair.  However, when she goes to a stylist, she is encouraged to get a short haircut because not everyone looks good with long hair.  This is just a small thing, but it gets the point across to young readers that they don't have to look like everybody else to be beautiful.  I recommend this book to others.